When Did Rabbits Start Laying Eggs?

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I can remember waking up early on Easter Sunday to find colorful foil-wrapped chocolate eggs hidden all over my childhood home – on stairs, tucked in window sills, peeking out from underneath furniture – virtually everywhere. In the living room, my sisters and I would always find baskets filled with presents and more candy eggs – a gift, we were told, left by the Easter Bunny in the night.

I never gave it much thought back then, but now that I’m passing the tradition on to my own children, the whole Easter Bunny concept seems, well … odd. Whoever came up with the idea that rabbits could lay eggs should have consulted a farmer. Sure, chickens lay eggs. And birds lay eggs. Even ducks lay eggs. But rabbits? Not the last time I checked.

So I Googled the origin of the Easter Bunny, and here’s what I found. Apparently, the first written mentions came from Germany in the 15th century. The Germans also started the tradition of making chocolate bunnies sometime during the 1800s.

The bunny made his way into American culture with the arrival of German settlers in Pennsylvania during the 1700s. They called him Osterhase, and he would lay brightly colored eggs for well-behaved children who made special nests in their caps and bonnets the night before Easter.

Now back to the original question – why does the Easter Bunny lay eggs? It seems the rabbit is an ancient symbol of fertility, long known for its reproductive prowess. (Ever heard the expression “multiplying like rabbits”?) Centuries before Christianity and Easter were born in the Mediterranean, people were already celebrating springtime with festivals centering around renewal, rebirth and fertility following the bitterness of winter.

Those pagan celebrations focused on the goddess of fertility, Eostre, which is where we get the word Easter. And Eostre, legend has it, was always seen with her pet rabbit, which laid the first colored eggs. Some sources claim the goddess cast the hare into the heavens, creating the constellation Lepus the Hare and giving the rabbit the ability to lay eggs once a year.

Technical definitions aside, I’m content to chalk the Easter Bunny tradition up to a secular spin on a religious holiday. (After all, it’s probably not as far-fetched as Santa’s flying reindeer.) There’s no denying it’s a lot of fun, too. Boy, did I enjoy seeing my barely walking, 15-month-old son toddle around our yard picking up Easter eggs of every color for the first time last spring. Talk about a Kodak moment.

Besides, an egg-laying rabbit isn’t the only peculiar thing about springtime and Easter. I’ve also pondered over why they call Good Friday “good,” when it centers around the crucifixion of Jesus. I’ve marveled at how spring daffodils and tulips magically poke their pretty heads out of the soil after enduring winter’s bitter chill. And I’ve wondered why kids love to eat those spongy excuses for candy called Peeps.

Oh, well. There are some questions I may never find the answers to on Google.

Happy Easter and happy spring! I hope the Easter Bunny treats you well this year.

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